Now that there are no doubt thousands of tourists stumbling up from the underground and wondering where to go apart from Westfield and Macca’s, I thought I’d publish the ten places in London I am feeling particularly fond of today. If you like the sound of them you can buy my e-book, where you’ll find many more (details below).
1. The Grapes
There’s a row of pubs in Limehouse, which you can reach by ambling along the canal from Hackney. My top choice would be The Grapes, a creaky old place with a tiny balcony out the back perched over the Thames; when the tide is high it’s a bit like drinking beer on a Victorian barge. Dickens used to drink here, and you can catch something of that time in the rich atmosphere (it was established in 1583).
76 Narrow Street, Limehouse, London, E14 8BP
020 7987 4396
Open: Mon-Wed 12pm-3pm & 5.30pm-11pm; Thur-Sat 12pm-11pm; Sun 12pm-10.30pm.
2. Whitechapel Gallery
This is the kind of gallery you’d see in a Woody Allen film. All soaring white walls and contemporary photography and elegant people having witty conversations in the restaurant or exchanging loaded glances in the bookshop. Just fabulous. Good exhibitions too…
77-82 Whitechapel High Street E1 7QX
Telephone: 020 7522 7888
Open: Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun 11am-6pm; Thur 11am-9pm
3. Victoria Park
Bestowed on the people of the East End by Queen Victoria – a green lung in that smoky era – it is still one of the most beautiful parks in all of London. Fantastic playgrounds, beautiful avenues to walk along and a canal running along one side towards the Thames.
Open daily, 6am until dusk.
Tube: Mile End, or local buses.
4. The Royal Inn on the Park
Two meals are sacrosanct in England – the Sunday Roast and the Hungover Fry-up. Royal Inn on the Park, a beautiful old pub right on Victoria Park, does a very good Sunday roast, and you can walk it off with a stroll through the park. The roast beef is very good: two huge slices of rare sirloin beef, spuds, carrots, dark gravy, red cabbage and horseradish. And they have real ales and pear cider on tap. There’s a huge beer garden (read: stay away on hot weekends) and it’s kid and dog friendly so a good one for families.
111 Lauriston Rd, London, E9 7HJ
Telephone: 020 898 5332
Open: Mon-Sat 12pm-11pm; Sun 12pm-10.30pm. Kitchen open: Monday – bar menu only; Tues-Sat 12.30pm-3.30pm & 6.30pm-10.30pm; Sun 12.30-4pm
Tube: Mile End, or get the 277 bus from Highbury & Islington
5. Viktor Wynd Fine Art
Quirky, creepy and sometimes shocking, the exhibitions at Viktor Wynd Fine Art aim to promote an eclectic range of artists; in this it succeeds. Viktor Wynd himself is an artist who helps run The Last Tuesday Society, which holds spectacular balls and parties, as well as lectures delving into all kinds of weird and wonderful subjects. Upstairs is a changing exhibition space and shop, downstairs a showcase of garish specimens – deformed skeletons, old dolls, even a child’s white coffin. Not a gallery for the delicate, or easily spooked, but bold and fascinating.
11 Mare Street E8 4RP
Telephone: 020 7998 3617
Open: Sat 11- 8pm.
Tube: Bethnal Green
6. Sutton House
It’s easy to forget that Hackney has its very own National Trust property. In fact, the woman in the gift shop was saying that the main problem Sutton House on Homerton High Street faces is that it doesn’t get the visitors, because no one seems to know where it is. And in a classic computer-says-no catch-22, Hackney Council won’t provide better signposting because it doesn’t get enough visitors.
Built in 1535, it has been home to merchants, squatters and Huguenot weavers, and has the sort of hushed atmosphere you’d expect of a building that’s seen people come and go for almost 500 years.
As well as the house, it has a beautiful café serving cream teas, with a timber-panelled room lined with second-hand books, a sunny conservatory and an outdoor patio. Hackney does a brisk trade in secondhand books – Oxfam on Kingsland Road, as well as the little charity shop in Hackney Central are both worth a look. And the one at Sutton House is particularly good – on my last visit I found not just last year’s bestselling novels, but fondue cookbooks from the seventies, Doctor Spock, old cloth-bound volumes, newer releases like Henning Mankel and TC Boyle, what appears to be a retired psychologist’s entire library, plus obscure poetry, gardening, travel and plenty more. An unexpected treasure on Homerton High Street.
2 and 4 Homerton High Street E9 6JQ
Telephone: 020 8986 2264
Open: Thurs-Sun 12-5pm
Tube: Dalston Junction, or Hackney Central Overground
7. Passing Clouds
In an unmarked warehouse beside the train tracks just off Kingsland Road you’ll find Passing Clouds. The staff are friendly, with the doorman helpfully calling out ‘Passing Clouds?’ as you stumble along in the dark towards the discreet entrance. Inside, it’s more like a house party than a nightclub, with knick-knacks and mismatched chairs scattered about, and a bar serving drinks in plastic cups. During the day it holds everything from ceramics classes to screen-printing workshops and film screenings (often contemporary political documentaries); on Sundays they hold a People’s Kitchen, cooking up surplus produce from the local area and eating it communally. A singular and fine-spirited enterprise.
1 Richmond Road E8 4AA
Telephone: 020 7241 4889
Check website for events and opening times
Tube: Dalston Junction
8. Il Bacio
Some would argue that, being in Stoke Newington, this place is more North than East London, but it’s worth a mention anyway as an extremely family-friendly Sardinian restaurant with great food and a lively, easygoing atmosphere (come on a Saturday and there will usually be a children’s birthday party in progress, to give you an idea of the clientele). The Il Bacio pizza is divine – rocket, asparagus and parma ham – but I’m also a big fan of the spaghetti vongole, which is topped with shaved bottarga, a Sardinian speciality of salty dried fish roe. Mmmmm. They also do deliveries.
61 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16
Telephone 020 7249 3833
Open: Mon-Fri 6pm-11.15pm; Sat & Sun 11am-11.15pm
No tube. Bus from Dalston Junction or Highbury Corner (check at tube station for the right numbers). Or just order a pizza.
You can get takeaway kebabs at Anatolya, but it’s worth hanging around and eating in, especially in winter when the huge ocakbasi barbecue warms up the room. The service is reliably good, the prices are honest, the food is fresh and it’s got a loyal local following. Start with the lahmacun, or Turkish pizza, which comes with salad. Then go onto a kebab or grilled fish – the mackerel is really good, and popular, too, so it’s always fresh. You can get yogurtli adana, which is a kebab cooked in yogurt with pita and caramelised butter (the kind of thing you get at Moro, but without the three-week waiting list) and everything comes with crunchy salad and rice.
253 Mare Street, Hackney, E8 3NS,
Telephone:020 8986 2223
Open: 11am-midnight daily
Nearest tube: Hackney Central overground, Dalston Kingsland, Bethnal Green
No building divides visitors to London more dramatically than the Barbican. A towering, vast Brutalist development built on a bombsite, with an arts centre at its concrete heart. Architecturally, it’s been described, perhaps a little unfairly, as a ‘beautiful failure – it’s badly sign-posted, the lifts have their own set of rules and the vast estate usually feels deserted, despite its central location. The only people you pass on the windy terraces and dark walkways are bewildered souls anxious to find the right theatre before their performance starts. It’s all a bit post-apocalyptic until you eventually reach the buzzing foyer, which is full of people necking wine and chatting on the red leather benches.
Tip: If you do visit the Barbican, just follow the yellow line painted along those dark, endless walkways (it really is a yellow brick road) – and you’ll get to there eventually. It’s worth seeing for whatever exhibitions are on, or a Sunday movie, music, theatre, or just to let the kids run free in the outdoor areas or vast foyers.
Silk Street, City of London EC2Y 8DS
Telephone: 020 7638 4141
Open: Mon-Sat 9am-11pm; Sun and Bank Holidays 12 noon-11pm
Tube: Barbican, Old Street, Farringdon
And one more…
11. Persephone Bookshop
Persephone Books isn’t strictly in East London, but is so unique and gorgeous it’s worth a mention. Their raison d’etre is to publish the work of neglected female authors in signature dove-grey volumes. You can order the books online, but the shop is worth a visit for its blue-stocking Woolfian charm.
59 Lamb’s Conduit Street WC1N 3NB
Telephone: 020 7242 9292
Open: Mon-Fri 10-6pm; Sat 12-5pm
I’ve just written an e-book about my favourite places in East London – basically the blog without all my personal witterings & even more places to go. It should be available on Amazon/Kindle now or very soon Here are the links: